Pubdate: Wed, 03 Aug 2011 Source: Bellingham Herald (WA) Copyright: 2011 Bellingham Herald Contact: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/43 Author: Jordan Schrader, Staff Writer 6-MONTH MORATORIUM ON TACOMA MEDICAL MARIJUANA SHOPS OK'D Tacoma banned medical marijuana shops Tuesday - but city government promises not to shut down existing businesses and has no plans for how to get rid of any new ones. The temporary ban is far from the last word. Mayor Marilyn Strickland said the six-month moratorium she proposed and the City Council unanimously approved is just a prelude to future regulation that she hopes will license legitimate sellers and allow them to operate. The ban applies to old and new medical marijuana providers but probably won't have much effect on the dozens of existing shops in Tacoma. That's because city lawyers contend they're already against the law, and are going through the legal process of trying to shut them down -- while allowing them to remain open as their appeals proceed and the council thinks about how to regulate them. Those who might have to worry are new operators not already embroiled in legal appeals with the city, or people who are thinking about opening such a business. "If you do, we're going to shut you down," Strickland said. A shutdown might start with sending a letter, but it's not clear what happens after that. Would police raid the place? Interim City Manager Rey Arellano said he and his staff hasn't yet decided on a strategy. The moratorium leaves it to Arellano to enforce the law -- "in a manner that will continue to preserve legal access to medical cannabis for qualifying patients." That means, in effect, the city won't take any new enforcement action against existing businesses, city staffers and council members said. The moratorium will prevent shops from multiplying further while rules are set up, Strickland said. Now the city will create a task force to come up with regulations, she said. Meantime, the city Planning Commission is tasked with proposing zoning rules with an eye toward the locations of schools, day cares, parks, churches and other facilities. Tacoma's ban, following the lead of places such as Kent and Federal Way, applies to both dispensaries and collective gardens allowed under a new state law. The gardens are forbidden whether or not they are connected to a business. The moratorium takes effect immediately as an emergency measure after the council's 7-0 vote, with Spiro Manthou and David Boe absent. It now goes to an Aug. 17 Planning Commission review and Sept. 7 and Sept. 27 public hearings. Medical marijuana advocates complained the public's first chance to see the moratorium came on the day it was approved, and they worried it would close down providers. "If you're going to pass a moratorium," attorney Jay Berneburg told the council, "please do not close the businesses and ruin the incomes and jobs of literally a couple hundred people and the safe access to marijuana of several thousand patients." The complaints mystified Councilman Joe Lonergan, who said businesses should be glad they will effectively be grandfathered in. "Very rarely does the government step in and say 'Those who have a business open currently are going to face zero competition for the next six months,'" Lonergan said. "Celebrate," he advised. - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.